|Little Sisters of the Poor|
A federal court ruled Tuesday, July 14, against an order of Catholic nuns who challenged the HHS Mandate in Barack Obama's health care overhaul because it forces them to violate their religious faith by providing contraception.
The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Colorado rejected the claim by the Little Sisters of the Poor that participating in the federal government's contraception delivery scheme makes them complicit, according to a statement from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which defended the Sisters.
Contraception, sterilization, and abortion all violate Catholic Church teaching, but Obamacare requires employers to provide services that result in all three to their employees without a co-pay. The Sisters had argued that the law's exemption wasn't sufficient, since it meant they would simply be signing the coverage away to another party.
"Although we recognize and respect the sincerity of Plaintiffs' beliefs and arguments," the three-judge panel said, "we conclude the accommodation scheme relieves Plaintiffs of their obligations under the Mandate and does not substantially burden their religious exercise under RFRA [Religious Freedom Restoration Act] or infringe upon their First Amendment rights."
The Becket Fund's lead attorney for the Little Sisters of the Poor expressed disappointment at the ruling and condemned the federal government for its continued hounding of the Sisters.
"After losing repeatedly at the Supreme Court, the government continues its unrelenting pursuit of the Little Sisters of the Poor," Mark Rienzi said. "It is a national embarrassment that the world's most powerful government insists that, instead of providing contraceptives through its own existing exchanges and programs, it must crush the Little Sisters' faith and force them to participate."
The leader for the Sisters re-emphasized the constitutionally protected principle of religious liberty.
"As Little Sisters of the Poor, we simply cannot choose between our care for the elderly poor and our faith," said Sister Loraine Marie Maguire, Mother Provincial for the Sisters. "And we should not have to make that choice, because it violates our nation's commitment to ensuring that people from diverse faiths can freely follow God's calling in their lives."
Rienzi pointed out that access to contraception, portrayed as an issue by the Obama administration in its promotion of Obamacare, has not been a problem for Americans.
"Untold millions of people have managed to get contraceptives without involving nuns," he said, "and there is no reason the government cannot run its programs without hijacking the Little Sisters and their health plan."
The Little Sisters operate group homes and provide daily care for the elderly poor in 30 U.S. cities. The massive IRS fines they face for noncompliance with the Obamacare HHS Mandate could threaten their ability to continue their mission in the U.S.
They cannot qualify for a religious exemption because they employ and serve people without regard for their religion.
"We are not exempt from the [Obamacare] Mandate because we neither serve nor employ a predominantly Catholic population," said the Sisters' communications director, Sister Constance Carolyn Veit, when the issue first arose. "We hire employees and serve/house the elderly regardless of race and religion, so that makes us ineligible for the exemption being granted churches."
The Becket Fund has maintained throughout that the HHS Mandate violates the Sisters' religious liberty.
"The Little Sisters adhere to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. In accordance with their faith, they uphold the unique, inviolable dignity of all human life, especially those deemed weak or, to some, 'worthless' in society," a prior statement said. "The federal government's contraception and abortion mandate, however, forces the Little Sisters to provide services that destroy human life, contradicting their very mission to respect it."
The ruling against the Sisters is a departure from the U.S. Supreme Court's decision last year to protect them, when it granted an injunction January 24 while the case was appealed. The Obama administration filed a reply to the Supreme Court stating that the Sisters had no grounds to challenge the Mandate.
More than 400 other Catholic organizations are also affected by the case because they receive health benefits from the Sisters' co-plaintiffs, Christian Brothers Employee Benefit Trust and Christian Brothers Services.
Four "Christian" universities in Oklahoma also lost as plaintiffs in the religious freedom case: Southern Nazarene, Oklahoma Wesleyan, Oklahoma Baptist, and Mid-America Christian Universities.
The 10th Circuit ruled last year that for-profit companies can join the exempted religious organizations and not provide the contraceptives, a report from Fox News said, with the U.S. Supreme Court later agreeing with the court in the Hobby Lobby case.
And while the panel in the Sisters' case included one of the judges who ruled in the Hobby Lobby decision, the judges drew a distinction between the two cases, saying that the religious nonprofits have an exemption process that was not available to Hobby Lobby.
The Becket Fund and the Sisters are reviewing the decision, with Becket attorneys vowing to take it to the Supreme Court if necessary.
"For over 175 years, we have served the neediest in society with love and dignity," Sister Maguire said. "All we ask is to be able to continue our religious vocation free from government intrusion."